Creative People Are Total Cheaters

A new study shows that creative people are also kinda shifty — given the opportunity, they're more likely to cheat on a test.

According to EurekAlert, psychologists first tested participants' intelligence and creativity. To assess the latter, they used "three measures [...], all of which have been shown to robustly predict creative performance" — these included scoring how often subjects engaged in creative pursuits, and to what extent they identified themselves as having a "creative cognitive style." Then they gave the subjects a "general knowledge quiz" on which they'd receive money for correct answers. After the quiz, subjects were asked to transfer their answers to a separate answer sheet where the right answers were already lightly marked. Creative people were more likely to change their answers to the correct ones; intelligence made no difference. Researchers also conducted a second experiment that sounds somewhat bizarre:

[T]est subjects were shown drawings with dots on two sides of a diagonal line and asked to indicate whether there were more dots on the left side or right side. In half of 200 trials, it was virtually impossible to tell whether there were more dots on one side or another. However, participants were told they'd be paid 10 times as much (5 cents vs. 0.5 cents) for each time they said there were more dots on the right side. As predicted, the more creative participants were significantly more likely to give the answer that paid more.

I'm not really sure that simply giving the answer that pays more constitutes cheating. Nonetheless, study authors Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely write that "creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks." They also posit that "creativity may help individuals generate a variety of reasons to justify such self-serving behaviors" — maybe creative people are better than average at thinking of excuses for cheating. Gino and Ariely also explain the large-scale social implications of their research:

As innovation has increased, this century already has weathered a series of accounting scandals and the collapse of several billion-dollar companies, resulting in dramatic changes to the business landscape. Similarly, over the last decade, we have increasingly witnessed cases of academic dishonesty by both students and teachers, as well as scandals of scientific cheating. [...] We are often surprised to learn that successful and ingenious decision makers in these contexts have crossed ethical boundaries. The results from the current article indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas.

Gino and Ariely do discuss some limitations of their research, most notably that "we used tasks that would heighten participants' desire to cheat," and that in real-world situations, creativity could actually have the opposite effect. Their research isn't conclusive enough for universities to start monitoring creative-writing majors extra-vigilantly, but it is a good reminder that just because somebody's artistic doesn't mean he or she is ethical. Then again, so are the biographies of many artists.

Creative Excuses: Original Thinkers More Likely To Cheat [EurekAlert]
The Dark Side Of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can Be More Dishonest [Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]